Monday, February 29, 2016

Book Review: "The Remnants" by Robert Hill

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to Forest Avenue Press for making it available!

As many people I know, I read a tremendous amount. But even though I read on average of 130 books a year, in a number of different genres, some books have similar themes, ideas, or plotlines, even if they're told in different ways.

And then there are the books that are utterly different. Robert Hill's The Remnants definitely falls into this category. While the heart of this book is familiar—the power (both positive and negative) of love in all its forms, the pull of family (again, positive and negative), and the tug-of-war between following your dreams and being happy where you are, Hill has created a universe of characters and a setting so unique, it almost seemed as if I were reading a book whose characters were fantastical creatures rather than actual people.

The town of New Eden is on its last legs, as most of its residents have died. It's Kennesaw Belvedere's 99th birthday, and, hewing to the tradition he has followed for a number of years now, Kennesaw is going to have tea and saltines with his friend True Bliss. True is one day shy of her 100th birthday, and although age has taken its toll on her body and her mind, she has never forgotten the memory of being stood up by the boy she loved so long ago.

"What kept him coming to her house for his birthday tea year after year was friendship based on age and familiarity, and the habits we can't shake and the hurts we can't outrun, and the senility that in its arbitrary mercy blocks our memories of it all."

As Kennesaw sets out for True's house, his mind wanders through the peaks and valleys of his life—being mistreated by his parents because he was more attractive than the average New Eden resident, the affection he had for another of New Eden's citizens that he didn't allow himself to feel, and the injustices of growing older. Unbeknownst to Kennesaw, his old friend Hunko Minton is also on his way to True's house, determined to stop the birthday tea and reveal a secret he has kept (mostly) hidden for so long.

New Eden is a whimsical town, where intermarriage between not-too-distant family members has created a unique blend of physical and mental characteristics among its residents, and through the years, many have died of unusual causes and in bizarre fashion. But despite their uniqueness—and their unusual names—(the names of the characters I've listed in this review are just the tip of the iceberg where that's concerned), these are people dealing with the same wants, hopes, and hurts as you see in any other town.

Hill has a voice all his own. It's at times flowery and old-fashioned, as he talks of begetting and lonesomes; at times it's gag-inducing, with a great deal of talk of bodily functions and the smells of each person; and at times it's even a little ribald, as he discusses sex but in a way I've never quite seen. It's a little off-putting at times, a little twee even, but these characters have such heart, and the payoff is both endearing and emotional, so it was worth the journey.

This is definitely not a book for everyone. You have to be willing to allow yourself to be transported into a town, a world of characters, a language all its own. And while you may wonder just what on earth you're reading, hopefully at the end (or perhaps sometime before), you'll find yourself smiling, and maybe even wiping away a tear or two.

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